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  Poison pill standard equipment on Apollo?

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Author Topic:   Poison pill standard equipment on Apollo?
Beau08
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From: Peoria, AZ United States
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posted 04-12-2012 05:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Beau08   Click Here to Email Beau08     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Recently watched movie "Contact". The scene of Jodie Foster's character reviewing equipment to be included on her "mission" had a poison pill as one of the items just in case something unforeseen were to happen. They said the Apollo astronauts carried them on their missions.

Is this true or just movie dramatic License? Has any astronaut confirmed or denied carrying one?

Jim Behling
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From: Cape Canaveral, FL
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posted 04-12-2012 06:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Never.

golddog
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From: australia
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posted 04-12-2012 06:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for golddog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Usual movie hype. Refuted by astronauts including Jim Lovell. As Lovell indicated in his book, if one wanted to commit suicide all that was necessary was to open the hatch.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-12-2012 07:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lovell stated similarly in NASA SP-350 Apollo Expeditions to the Moon:
Since Apollo 13 many people have asked me, "Did you have suicide pills on board?" We didn't, and I never heard of such a thing in the eleven years I spent as an astronaut and NASA executive.

I did, of course, occasionally think of the possibility that the spacecraft explosion might maroon us in an enormous orbit about the Earth — a sort of perpetual monument to the space program. But Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and I never talked about that fate during our perilous flight. I guess we were too busy struggling for survival.

Beau08
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From: Peoria, AZ United States
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posted 04-12-2012 07:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Beau08   Click Here to Email Beau08     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sounded unlikely to me too. Just seemed like an odd thing to add to a movie when it wasn't needed. The only reason I asked was that Carl Sagan played a big part in the script of the movie and maybe he knew something we didn't. I guess there would be more unpredictable scenarios if dealing with an alien life forms however.

Rusty B
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posted 04-12-2012 07:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rusty B   Click Here to Email Rusty B     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've never read or heard of U.S. astronauts carrying a suicide pill.

Gary Powers, the pilot of the U.S. U-2 spy plane shot down in 1960 and attributed to NASA as a weather plane did carry a suicide device. The cover story about being a NASA weather flight was false. Gary Powers worked for the CIA. According to his book about the spy mission, the CIA did give him a poison dipped needle that was concealed in a hollowed out U.S. coin.

GoesTo11
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From: Denver, CO USA
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posted 04-12-2012 08:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for GoesTo11   Click Here to Email GoesTo11     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by golddog:
As Lovell indicated in his book, if one wanted to commit suicide all that was necessary was to open the hatch.
Indeed, in the very first paragraphs of Lost Moon (later, Apollo 13), it was made clear that the fanciful rumors of "suicide pills" were of unknown provenance, picked up by a sensationalizing press... and in turn were, uh, swallowed by much of the public.

Jay Chladek
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From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 04-12-2012 09:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Beau08:
The only reason I asked was that Carl Sagan played a big part in the script of the movie and maybe he knew something we didn't.
I highly doubt Sagan had ANYTHING to do with the pill mention as I believe he was dead by the time the film was made anyway. Anybody from the scriptwriter to a producer could have had the line stuck in (again, for dramatic effect). The original book was about a team of scientists taking a ride on the machine, not just one person.

Besides, Jim summed up the reason for not having the pill rather well in his book. Just crack open a valve manually, vent the atmosphere into space and they would be dead rather quickly (as Soyuz 11 showed about a year later).

Fezman92
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posted 04-12-2012 09:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Rusty B:
Gary Powers, the pilot of the U.S. U-2 spy plane shot down in 1960 and attributed to NASA as a weather plane did carry a suicide device.
So is that how this urban legend started?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 04-12-2012 10:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
I highly doubt Sagan had ANYTHING to do with the pill mention as I believe he was dead by the time the film was made anyway.
Citing director Robert Zemeckis' audio commentary on the Contact DVD, Wikipedia says the scene with the cyanide pill was included in the film due to Sagan's own insistence.
The scene where the NASA scientists give Arroway the "cyanide pill" caused some controversy during production and also when the film came out. Gerald D. Griffin, the film's NASA advisor, insisted that NASA has never given any astronaut a cyanide pill "just in case," and that if an astronaut truly wished to commit suicide in space, all he or she would have to do is cut off their oxygen supply.

However, Carl Sagan insisted that NASA did indeed give out cyanide pills and they did it for every mission an astronaut has ever flown. Zemeckis said that because of the two radically different assertions, the truth is unknown, but he left the suicide pill scene in the movie as it seemed more suspenseful that way and it was also in line with Sagan's beliefs and vision of the film.

stsmithva
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From: Centreville, VA, USA
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posted 04-12-2012 10:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stsmithva   Click Here to Email stsmithva     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Zemeckis said that because of the two radically different assertions, the truth is unknown
Good grief, that's some specious logic. I know Sagan worked for/with NASA — he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal twice. But that was for things like briefing the astronauts on what they might find the moon to be like, or working on the Voyager record and Pioneer plaque. Griffin was a flight controller and then flight director, knowledgeable of and responsible for every minute of several Apollo missions.

I swim in the ocean several times a year, and I think seahorses wear little saddles. Jacques Cousteau would disagree. The truth is unknown.

p51
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From: Olympia, WA, USA
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posted 04-12-2012 10:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Make no mistake, the US government HAS made suicide pills (mostly having to do with clandestine uses and probably ingested by people who didn't know they were taking one), but none were ever given to NASA astronauts.

I know people who worked on "Contact," and there was some arguing on the set about that scene, but I can't name names. It made for good drama, so I understood why it was in the movie (as pointed out already, the film scenario wouldn't give an obvious "out" of opening a vent like Lovell mentioned in space).

I personally heard Al Worden recently say, "I swear, someone asks that question almost every time I do one of these appearances," citing he'd never heard of a suicide pill other than in fiction.

Jay Chladek
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From: Bellevue, NE, USA
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posted 04-12-2012 11:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At the time of Apollo, Sagan was based out of the University of California at Berkeley and then Cambridge, MA before taking a professorship at Cornell University in the early 1970s. I am not inclined to believe a possible Sagan assertion about "poison pills" unless he was based at Langley or JSC from Apollo's early days onwards (which he was not). He would not have been in the loop on that at all if such a decision was made.

GoesTo11
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From: Denver, CO USA
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posted 04-13-2012 12:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for GoesTo11   Click Here to Email GoesTo11     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am generally an admirer of the late Dr. Sagan, for both his scholarship in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, and his critical role in popularizing these sciences.

However, I also don't find it at all farfetched that given his well-documented "open-mindedness" regarding what he might have called the "consciousness-raising" use of psychoactive substances, he might well have been quite receptive to the notion that astronauts in a no-win situation might avail themselves of the use of yet more pills to end it all.

I don't buy any of it for a second, but I can see why Sagan might have.

Rusty B
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From: Sacramento, CA
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posted 04-13-2012 07:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rusty B   Click Here to Email Rusty B     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Reporters have been asking this question at least as early as Apollo 8.

Here's a Calgary Herald story from Dec 21, 1968 where reporters asked Deke Slayton if the Apollo 8 astronauts carried a "suicide pill, or pin, or other device". Of course Slayton answered no.

(Scroll halfway down the page, left column for question and answer).

FFrench
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From: San Diego
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posted 04-13-2012 03:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not sure if you have read Frank Borman's book "Countdown," but that gives you one, highly unflattering, account of what one astronaut thought of Sagan, and what Sagan thought of at least astronaut, during the time of Apollo.

"I'll never forget or forgive him," Borman relates, and gives a highly scathing account of Sagan's understanding of the human space program.

bwhite1976
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From: belleville, IL USA
Registered: Jun 2011

posted 04-21-2012 09:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for bwhite1976   Click Here to Email bwhite1976     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have always wondered about that incident at Cornell that Borman references in his book. Why in the heck, did Borman not see that he was being set up for a rather hostile evening? As I recall in the book Sagan invited him to his home and Borman spent the night being questioned about Vietnam by a bunch of college kids as if he were responsible. Sagan certainly used him, and after reading Countdown it does change ones perspective of Sagan.

All times are CT (US)

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